Date of Award

Spring 2001

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Patricia Sullivan


This dissertation studies first-year college student essays about grief, loss and death. It begins with the author's own narrative of grief and moves on to explore the complications of revealing grief in an academic context, discussing the personal and political implications of doing so. The dissertation argues that narratives of grief in composition classrooms are often part of a larger dialogue among both students and teachers, and that often these narratives are written as kinds of responses to one another. It explores the relationship between these kinds of dialogues and elegies written by nineteenth century women, which invite reciprocation and response rather than definitive closure. The author suggests that these dialogues are essential to not just writing, but also to grieving and healing, and argues that engaging and encouraging dialogues of grief in the composition classroom, while risky, also engenders hope. She further argues that teachers of college writing, when reading student grief narratives, think of "placement" not so much in terms of the testing and slotting students into various levels of writing courses, but rather as a way of defining students' emotional and psychological positions as they first enter college and the writing classroom. Finally, she suggests ways of opening up rhetorical spaces in composition classrooms for relational and responsive narrations of grief and loss.